Birds and Geology in Socorro

“Are you interested in a geology lesson as we drive down the freeway?” Larry, former president of New Mexico Tech and a renowned geologist, asked those riding in our car. As we traveled down Interstate 25, he animatedly pointed out the basalt flows, plateaus, granite outcroppings and layers of caliche.

Our first stop to scout for birds was Turtle Bay, a large pond on the New Mexico Tech campus. A large mulberry tree was a magnet of bird activity, the most interesting and colorful being Western Tanagers and Cedar Waxwings. The trees along the edge of the golf course, normally a good spot to see birds, were quiet. It could have been the noise from the leaf blower on the golf course side of the trees, or the presence of a Cooper’s Hawk. We could barely see the tail of the female hawk as she sat on her nest piled high with sticks in the top of one of the trees. However, periodically we heard the harsh keh keh keh keh of her partner a short distance away.

When we wandered around the front of Macy Center, we observed the activity of several species of swallows swooping and diving over the gold course. The leaf blower must have been stirring up insects. More Western Tanagers flew in and out of the trees, along with Lesser Goldfinch and Western Kingbirds.

A pair of Ringed Turtle Doves, foraged next to the road.

Next we drove to the north end of Riverine Park along the Rio Grande, east of Socorro.

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As we approached the end of the road, two Summer Tanager’s flew it. “Wow,” remarked Richard. “This is a life bird for me.” The male posed on the top of a fallen log, rotating like a model to allow us to view him from all sides.

A brisk breeze was blowing as we alighted from the cars. A Mallard swam in the river’s oxbow and a Snowy Egret flew overhead. We decided to find a more protected location to eat our lunch.

As we visited over lunch, two pair of Common Ravens flew playfully in and out of the trees.

After lunch, we explored one of the trails that wound through the trees. A Downy Woodpecker glided in and wound himself around the trunk of a cottonwood. White-breasted Nuthatches traveled head first down the branches of trees as they scavenged for insects. We could hear the melodic song of a Bewick’s Wren, and were able to spot him as he flew in close. Male Summer Tanagers were like tiny beacons in the trees.

Evidence of forest under story clearing was evident. We laughed when we saw a tree marked as a “Killer Tree.”

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It was a leisurely day and good to be outdoor.

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